Wednesday, 22 April 2015

News from the Dardanelles

On 29 April 1915 Prime Minister Massey announced in Wellington that four days earlier New Zealand troops had participated in the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Dardanelles. However actual photographs of military activities and living conditions at Gallipoli were sparse in the Auckland Weekly News Supplement until late July 1915. There were photographs of the naval warships trying to force a passage through the Dardanelles and bombarding the Turkish forts there. There was also the Roll of Honour; and its seemingly never-ending portraits of casualties must have alerted readers that something BIG was happening. But either distance, censorship, early lack of official photographers or the simple fact that the troops couldn't easily get their films developed meant the Auckland Weekly News could only gradually reveal the campaign to its readers as events unfolded. This little piece might shed some light on how Auckland Weekly News readers learned about life and death in the Dardanelles.

Early in 1915 readers learned that the Allies’ objective was to invade Turkey by capturing the straits of the Dardanelles then breaking through and taking Constantinople (now Istanbul). After that they could establish a supply line to aid Russia via the Black Sea. In April the Weekly News helpfully published a map showing readers the scene of the action.


However the straits were strenuously defended by the Turks using submarines, mines and gunfire from their coastal forts. Following is a picture of the British battleship HMS Irresistible sinking after hitting a mine and becoming a sitting target for Turkish coastal batteries on 18 March.


After the Navy’s failure to force the straits, military chiefs decided the army would have to land and capture the heights and forts defending the Dardanelles. Before landings could be attempted, minesweeping operations still continued.


Now the ANZACs could go in. The following photograph shows troops in boats being towed by destroyer before the troops rowed the final distance to the beach at Gaba Tepe.


The next photograph shows the early stages of the landing with troops from the Auckland Battalion wading ashore under artillery fire.


And the next drawing is Auckland Weekly News artist Trevor Lloyd’s jingoistic interpretation of the landing. Note the cowardly Turks’ oriental features.


After extremely hard fighting the Auckland and Canterbury battalions secured the left flank of Gaba Tepe and began to dig in.


For the next eight months, dugouts such as the one shown in the next photograph would be the homes for most of the New Zealanders on the Gallipoli Peninsula.


The campaign soon became a stalemate, but death or wounds could come at the most unexpected moment. Stretcher bearers were stretched thin. Private John Simpson was an Australian stretcher bearer. Early in the campaign he began using a donkey to make his job easier. Some Diggers remember the donkey was called Duffy while others think his name was Murphy. New Zealand Medical Corpsman Private Dick Henderson saw Simpson at work with his donkey and also began using one to carry wounded soldiers. According to the Weekly News, Henderson’s donkey was also called Murphy.

The following photograph of Murphy and Henderson was taken by Sergeant James Gardiner Jackson on 12 May, seven days before Simpson was killed by machine gun fire. What became of Simpson’s donkey is a mystery. Legend has it that Henderson began using him but it seems he had his own Murphy. Sergeant Jackson’s photograph later became the source for Horace Moore Jones’s famous painting, The Man with the Donkey.


Death was never far away. After the massive Turkish attack on the ANZAC perimeter on 19 May was repelled, about 3000 Turkish and Arab corpses lay in No Man’s Land. In the summer heat they began to putrefy so that the stench became nauseating. Therefore on 24 May both sides agreed on a day-long truce. The following photograph shows Turks, Australians and New Zealanders working together to bury the dead, before the killing started again next day.


At least those who got a serious wound had a chance to leave the peninsula and never come back. Some of the patients on the hospital ship in the following photograph probably hope they’d got their ‘Blighty’ wound.


The last photograph shows wounded soldiers disembarking at Auckland. All of them are able to walk and none appear to have lost limbs. The soldier in front is using a pair of crutches. But for the seriously maimed men who returned to New Zealand, life frequently became a ‘living death’ where they often faced a lifetime of disability, pain, social discrimination and economic disadvantage. Their big adventure indeed came at a high price.


For more images from Gallipoli have a look at our latest Historypin collection featuring photographic postcards sent back to New Zealand by Sapper Ebenezer Johnson (best viewed in Firefox or Chrome).

Author: Chris Paxton, Sir George Grey Special Collections

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